ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION, ABUBAKAR BALARABE MAHMOUD, SAN TO THE NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING OF 24TH NOVEMBER, 2016 IN MINNA, NIGER STATE.
Your Excellency, Governor of Niger State State, the Honourable Attorney General of Niger State and Commissioner of Justice, the Chief Judge of Niger State, members of the Niger State Executive Council, National Officers of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Eminent Bar Leaders, Distinguished members of NBA-National Executive Committee, members of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Distinguished NEC members, I welcome you all to this NEC meeting in the capital city of Minna, Niger State. This is a statutory NEC meeting being the first NEC meeting of the National Executive Committee of the 28th Presidency of the Nigerian Bar Association, which I am honoured to serve as President. This gathering of NEC members is in keeping with the quarterly meeting of this august body which affords NEC members opportunities to meet with a view to addressing issues affecting the NBA and the nation. NEC meetings also allow members of NEC meet to network, share experiences and touch base with one another. This creates strong bond of affection, compassion and a sense of belonging to our great Association, the Nigerian Bar Association.
After months of campaigns and final conduct of the NBA elections, your current National Officers were elected i
On 31st July 2016. This election marked the beginning of a transition from the administration of my predecessor in office to this current NBA administration under my leadership. And so on August 26th, 2016, this administration was inaugurated and we were sworn in to steer the ship of this great Association.
I have no element of doubt in my mind that winning elections and being sworn in are not an end itself, but the beginning of visionary leadership and delivery on campaign promises. It is also the beginning of accountability in governance. It signals a time when a leader is held accountable for his acts of omission and commission.
Nigeria is a country where there is a huge deficit in accountability in leadership. Accountability is the concept that lays down an expectation that in leadership just like in governance, those in public office, who exercise authority on the basis of public trust, must be answerable, blameworthy and liable. I strongly believe that this administration will be accountable to the National Executive Committee, NEC, Annual General Meeting, and all our members because you and many others will be affected by our decisions and actions. It is because of my readiness to be held accountable by our members that I carefully chose the four cardinal programmes I intend to implement as encapsulated in the 3RS &P.That is Regulation,Representation,Re-engineeeing of the Bar and Public Interest.
OUR VISION AND PROGRAMMES FOR A BRAVE NEW BAR
Our vision and programmes for a brave new Bar are encapsulated in our campaign manifesto. The manifesto contains the agenda and priorities of this administration from September 2016 to August 2018.
The vision of this administration as set out in my manifesto is: “To reinvent the NBA into a brave new bar driven by the knowledge and skills of its members as a veritable agent for national transformation while safeguarding the interest of its members”.
With regards to our programmes, they are anchored on four thematic areas as follows: 1. Regulation, which deals with the restructuring of the regulatory framework of the legal profession; 2. Representation in respect of enhanced welfare and representation of our members’ interest; 3. Re-engineering in the area of institutional and structural reforms of the NBA as an organization and 4.Public Interest in terms of active pursuit of issues of National imperatives.
UNBUNDLING THE VISION AND PROGRAMMES.
Our programmes as enunciated above are known as “3s & P, and have been captured succinctly and broken down in both my inaugural speech of August 26, 2016 and Bar Leaders Summit speech of November 11th 2016.
My Learned colleagues, I respectfully enjoin you to read both speeches and other working documents for today's meeting. A careful perusal of these speeches and the communiqué issued at the end of our recent Bar Leaders Summit of November 11, 2016 shall afford you the opportunity of not only understanding and appreciation of the future direction of this administration but also supporting and following us on the journey.
THE ADVOCACY ROLE OF THE BAR IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
Apart from the regulatory and representative roles of the Bar, there is also a very important role in the public interest. Over the years, the NBA has acquired a reputation as being the conscience and mouthpiece of the people on issues relating to rule of law, economic development, good governance, independence of the judiciary, protection of fundamental rights, freedom of expression etc. We have discharged this responsibility creditably and have been able to command the respect of the people. Our spokesmen over the years have anchored their statements on due process and the rule of law. When pronouncements are made rooted in these twin principles, it only means that such statements are correct and true. At all times, the Bar stands for the truth devoid of sycophancy and political colourations. It is expected that the discourse of this NEC meeting will always be predicated upon these principles. It is therefore necessary to attend NEC meetings with renewed minds where principles and professionalism prevail over politics.
OUR STEWARDSHIP: THE JOURNEY SO FAR
Distinguished colleagues, in my inaugural address I had stated that the task at hand is arduous. In the said address I re-affirmed my unwavering commitment to work assiduously to pursue our programmes to the best of my ability and in line with the NBA Constitution and objectives. I also promised to do so working collectively with other elected National Officers with a high sense of responsibility, honesty and integrity.
I want to reiterate again that we will pursue our mandate with only one sole objective: promoting the welfare and development of our members and the pursuit of the overall national interest of our country. In order to achieve that objective, I can say, without equivocation that this administration hit the ground running immediately after inauguration. I have issued several press statements with a view to intervening on national and public interest issues. I have also attended and made speeches at ceremonial and valedictory court sessions in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. I have also set up or constituted some Committees and Task Forces to facilitate and drive some of our programmes. Please permit me to mention some of our work so far.
SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF THE NBA : NBA PRESIDENT AS THE CHIEF SPOKESMAN OF THE BAR
Distinguished members of NEC, I started speaking for our noble Association immediately after my inauguration as President. In discharging this duty, I have spoken on your behalf in respect of many national and public interest issues. But there is a disturbing emerging trend that I need to address: a situation where some of our members and Bar leaders speak on issues I have already addressed with a view to countermanding my statement and position. According to the NBA Constitution, the President of the NBA is the sole and chief spokesman of the Bar. He does not shirk nor share this cardinal and solemn responsibility with any other National Officer, Branch officers or Bar Leader. This constitutional and leadership responsibility has not only been made clear in the past, but was even enunciated and passed as a NEC resolution at the NBA-NEC in Enugu in December, 2009. What more can be stronger than a NEC resolution, apart from the decisions of the NBA-AGM? Yet some NEC members go about in the print and electronic media flouting the resolution of this august assembly. Recently, several members of the Bar have made press statements contradicting and countermanding the NBA President.
The procedure for contradicting the President is to table the matter before NBA-NEC or AGM with a view to obtaining a resolution to that effect. This is a mark of disrespect not only to the office of the NBA President but to the NBA as an Institution. If our NEC members can publicly countermand and contradict the President of the Bar on NEC resolutions, how then do you expect ordinary citizens and politicians to respect the views of the Bar? This situation is not acceptable, and if not checked will ridicule the Presidency of the Bar. It is not about me. It is about the institution.
Therefore, I call on this NEC with all the Presidential powers I can muster, and according to the spirit, intendment and letters of the NBA Constitution, to pass a resolution today that any NEC member who contradicts or countermands the President of the Bar in the media shall be suspended from NBA-NEC, once established.
It is important to note that once a NEC member by virtue of branch election or appointment, a member does not have personal views on issues anymore.
A CALL FOR THE REFORM OF THE ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CRIMES COMMISSION.
In my inaugural speech referred to above, I had stated that the fight against corruption can only be achieved if we do so with the framework of the rule of law and by strong institutions. I stated that there was an urgent need to reposition and strengthen anti-corruption institutions so as to confront the problems of corruption on a consistent sustainable basis.
While commending the efforts of the Economic and financial Crimes Commission, EFCC for the work it has been doing and for its enviable record of achievement, I also called for the reform of the EFCC itself. I stated as follows:
“We need to define its mandate more narrowly and more clearly. In my view its broad operations as an investigative and prosecutorial agency should be reviewed. I recommend strongly that the EFCC be limited to investigation. The decision to prosecute and conduct of the prosecution must be by an independent highly resourced prosecution Agency. In addition, the EFCC and the prosecution Agency must be secured from political interference in their activities. There is absolutely no reason for it to report operationally or otherwise to the presidency”
In response to my call in the above statement, the EFCC issued a statement and reacted negatively to my call for reforms and went as far as calling lawyers “rogues and vultures”. It is important to note that I have no other agenda than to promote public discourse and debate about our criminal institutions like EFCC and their capacity to perform. The NBA Anti-Corruption Commission shall come up with proposals and programmes in respect of these reforms.
SPECIAL SESSION OF THE SUPREME COURT TO MARK THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE 2016/2017 LEGAL YEAR AND CONFERMENT OF THE RANK OF SENIOR ADVOCATE OF NIGERIA AT THE SUPREMECOURT OF NIGERIA.
On September 19th, 2016, I attended the Special Session to mark the commencement of the new legal year and conferment of Senior Advocates of Nigeria. At the Session I delivered a speech as required of me by the convention of such occasion. Permit me to refer to a section of the speech that relates to the regulation of the legal profession in Nigeria, which is as follows:
“It is not only the judiciary that requires urgent reforms. Indeed the Bar is an eminent candidate for reform. I am referring to the reform of the regulation of the legal profession. The recent public concern about the profession has forced many of us to think deeply on the current state of the legal profession and indeed how the profession is being regulated. We realize that there is an urgent need to interrogate the architecture of the regulation. This is imperative if the legal profession in Nigeria is to be raised in sync with the current international standard of the regulation of the profession. Many countries for instance are moving away from the current model of self regulation. A few have strengthened their Bar Associations or Law Societies to combine the representative and regulatory functions. In my view this is a conversation that is long overdue here. We must for instance interrogate the capacity of the Body of Benchers to continue its regulatory responsibility. The Body of Benchers currently comprise 240 members. Out of these, 99 are life Benchers majority of whom do not attend the meetings of the Body due to age or other exigencies. 72 are state Chief Judges and Attorneys General of States. The NBA has 30 representatives. The remaining members are justices of the Supreme Court and the President and Presiding justices of the Court of Appeal Divisions, all very busy people. The question really is what sort of regulation do we expect from a body comprising 240 members many of whom we can only expect fleeting attention from?
Many countries in the Common Wealth, though still retaining the ceremonial responsibilities of the Benchers for admitting qualified persons to the Bar and as custodians of the legal traditions and other formal powers, they have created new and more effective institutions for the more arduous and increasingly complex task of regulating the legal profession.
In the UK for instance the Legal Services Act 2007 is a legislation of over 400 pages. It defines the regulatory objectives to be achieved in the regulation of the legal profession in the UK and establishes the Legal Services Board as the apex regulator with the Bar Council and Solicitors Regulation Authority having specific roles of regulating Barristers and Solicitors respectively.
My postulation is that unless we take important and urgent decisions, the legal profession in Nigeria will lag behind its other contemporaries in Africa and indeed internationally. The legal profession is key to the next phase of Nigeria's development. Effective regulation of the legal profession is an absolute pre-requisite for the development of the profession.”
My dear noble colleagues, I have taken time to refer to this lengthy part of my speech because it relates to regulation of the legal profession which is one of my cardinal programmes. I believe that the reference will help throw more light on the challenges of regulating the legal profession in Nigeria.
ARREST OF JUDGES BY DSS: THE NBA POSITION.
You would recall that sometime in October this year, the operatives of DSS invaded the residences of some judges across the country, including some justices of the Supreme Court, Judges of Federal High Court in Abuja and other jurisdictions. These include Rivers and Gombe States. The Justices were taken into custody after several hours of search. It is worthy of note that the DSS held a press conference after the operations justifying its actions and described the operations as series of sting operations on the basis of allegations of corruptions and other acts of professional misconduct by a few of the suspected Judges.
We promptly rejected the DSS explanations and justifications. We have since condemned the actions of the DSS declaring the operations illegal, unconstitutional and without due process.
Restating the position of the NBA on the arrest of judges in my speech delivered at the valedictory court session in honour of Justice Suleiman Galadima, I stated as follows:
“I want to reiterate that the position of the Bar Association is not aimed at protecting any Judge. We are not also shielding any Judge from investigation from charges of corruption. The resolve of the NBA on the fight against corruption is unwavering. . . . The NBA reiterates its demand that the DSS must be restricted to its constitutional and statutory duties. Its core mandate is guaranteeing internal national security. It is not its duty to conduct police investigation or arraign and prosecute cases of corruption. It is not its responsibility to conduct sting operation on judges for corruption or professional misconduct in the middle of the night. . . . I call on My Lord the Chief Justice of Nigeria to immediately take necessary and urgent steps to set in motion the process of cleansing the system. On our part will continue to lend our full support to this process. I urge our members to remain resolute and united on this. We must speak with one voice. This is not the time to be divided.
Distinguished NEC members, it is important to note that the arrest of Judges by the DSS not only generated a lot of national and international reactions, but also generated accusations and counter-accusations between some of the Judges and other personalities and Agencies. Consequently we called on the National Judicial Council, NJC to take very urgent steps to safeguard the public image and sanctity of the courts. In addition to calling the NJC to action, we have gone further to recommend that the affected judges should step aside from sitting and performing their judicial functions pending the determination of the allegations against them to safeguard the sanctity of the judiciary.
On the need for the judges involved to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is established, I stated in my speech at the valedictory court session of the Court of Appeal in honour of the retirement of Honourable Justice Sotonye Denton-West as follows:
“ We therefore strongly recommend that, without prejudice to the innocence or otherwise of the judges involved in the ongoing investigations they should be required to recluse themselves from further judicial functions or required to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is fully and completely established or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings. We believe this is necessary in order to protect the sanctity and integrity of judicial processes that may involve the judges concerned and safeguard the public images of the institution”
I am happy to note that the NJC has already directed the Judges involved to step aside until the determination of the case. Also some of the Judges have since been charged to court.
I have already set up a Crisis Management Committee of the NBA comprising all Past President and Past General Secretaries of the NBA to manage the crisis precipitated by the arrest of judges.
Apart from constituting a Crises Management Committee, I also convened a meeting of Bar Leaders comprising Past NBA Presidents and General Secretaries, Past Attorneys General of the Federation and current Attorney General of the Federation, and Secretary of NJC. The Bar Leaders reviewed carefully the developments after listening to the detailed briefing from both the Attorney General of the Federation and the Secretary of NJC. I am happy to inform NEC that one of the outcomes of the Bar Leaders meeting was to set up a Task Force to review the developments and come up with clear, specific recommendation on how best to clean up the nation's judiciary and rebuild confidence of Nigerians in our courts. I am still expecting the report of the Task Force headed you past President of the Nigerian Bar Association,Dr.Olisa Agbakoba,OON,SAN.
We shall continue our consultations and engagements. We shall be coming up with recommendations which we will pass to NJC and the Federal Government.
I want to use this opportunity to assure all our members that we shall not only ensure at all times in this case that due process is followed but we shall also insist on compliance with the principles of rule of law.
BAR LEADERS SUMMIT.
On November 11th, 2016 I convened a Bar Leaders’ Summit to deliberate on the challenges facing the Nigerian Bar Association at this time and articulate on the future of the legal profession in Nigeria. The summit provided an opportunity to exchange ideas, articulate our views, and make recommendations as to the best practices of leading a 21st century progressive Bar. There were also suggestions in respect of strategies on how to ensure continuity and consistency of programmes and policies in NBA.
The Bar Leaders' Summit came up with a report and a communiqué. The report and communiqué of the Summit are part of the bundle of documents for this NEC meeting. I enjoin you to study them.
Dear noble NEC members I ask that you approve the recommendations in the Bar Leaders' Summit communiqué for immediate implementation, including the development of a comprehensive strategic plan for the NBA.
ADHOC COMMITTEES AND TASK FORCES: WHAT WE HAVE DONE
Ladies and gentlemen of NEC, it could be deciphered from the foregoing that this administration has been very busy working hard since immediately after inauguration. In order to carry out our assignments some platforms like adhoc Committees and Task Forces were established to facilitate the work. To this end, this administration has inaugurated the following Adhoc Committees and Task Forces in view of the nature of their work and the urgency of their assignments vis-à-vis national developments.
The said Committees and Task Forces are as follows:
1. Stamp & Seal Committee
2. Crisis Management Committee
3. Task Force on Arrest of Judges and Judicial Reforms
4. NBA Task Force on Insurgency & Reconstruction of the North East
5. NBA Task Force on Niger Delta Crisis.
These committees and Task Forces have already done extensive work in compliance with their terms of reference. I request this NEC to approve these Committees and Task Forces as already constituted and their membership because they were set up on the basis of anticipatory approval due to the urgency and important nature of their mandate.
Since assumption of office, this administration has been building collaborative relationships with Justice Sector Institutions, Bar Associations, International Organizations, and Development Partners. This we have done by embarking on courtesy visits and having bilateral meetings. We have also met with the Representatives of United Nations and European Union in Nigeria.
Learned colleagues, I am happy to announce to you that on behalf of our National Officers, I led a delegation of your National Officers and eminent Bar Leaders on courtesy visits to the Offices of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osibajo SAN and the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Mahmoud Mohammed.
CONSTITUTION OF COMMITTEES, GOVERNING COUNCILS, COMMISSIONS, TASK FORCES, WORKING GROUPS.
Learned colleagues, it goes without saying that Committees, Governing Councils, Task Forces are veritable and essential platforms for the success of a Bar Association like the NBA. These platforms are key to effective and efficient service delivery as it is not possible for the National Officers or National Secretariat to deal with all activities and functions of a Bar Association. Also the use of Committees and other Bodies allows lawyers who have interest and expertise in a particular area to focus on those areas.
In view of the foregoing, this administration proposes to set up various platforms for successful and smooth running of the Association. I ask this august body to approve the constitution of the following Committees, Committees, Governing Council, etc. They are as follows:
1. Judiciary Committee
2. Rule of Law Action Group
3. 2017 Conference Planning Committee
4. NBA Institute of Continuing Legal Education Governing Council
5. NBA Human Rights Institute Governing Council
6. NBA Anti-Corruption Commission
7. NBA Welfare Committee
8. NBA Election Working Group
9. NBA Women Forum
10. NBA Women Forum
11. NBA Academic Forum
12. NBA Young Lawyers Forum
13. NBA Section on Public Interest & Development Law.
14. NBA Legislative Advocacy Commission
15. NBA Committee on Regulation of the Legal Profession.
I request you to approve the setting up of the Committees, Governing Councils, etc as listed above, and allow me the discretion and latitude to populate the Bodies with the appropriate names thereafter.
FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY & 2016/2017 NBA BUDGET
Ladies and gentlemen, without financial planning and accountability, a Bar will certainly fail to function. Therefore to ensure fiscal responsibility in a Bar, it is expected that an annual budget is presented to the appropriate authority for approval. The budget will ensure that members are aware of how funds are to be allocated and provide legitimacy for the expenditure. It also assists Bars in planning for the year ahead. Further, the production of a budget assists Bars in identifying whether more funds need to be raised. Budgeting allows Bars to identify areas where other fundraising activities may be required.
Perhaps most importantly, production of a budget for presentation to members is crucial to creating an accountable and democratic Bar. It allows members to have a say in how funds are to be allocated.
It is for the foregoing reasons that the NBA National Treasurer shall present the 2016/2017 NBA Annual Budget of this administration to this august meeting for your consideration and approval. I respectfully ask you to consider the budget and approve it before the close of business today. I assure you that this administration under my watch will always ensure the observance of fiscal responsibility in handling our finances. All NBA funds shall be prudently spent and accounted for.
On a personal note I pledge without sounding immodest that I shall not use or spend NBA funds even on my official assignment as NBA President. I shall bear all expenses for both my local and international assignments in Nigeria and outside Nigeria.
THE NBA NATIONAL SECRETARIAT AND OFFICE OF THE NBA PRESIDENT.
The Nigerian Bar Association has grown into a behemoth. With a membership base of over 150,000 lawyers, it has 120 branches spread across 36 states and Abuja. It has a large NEC membership, 3 Sections, 6 Fora, and 2 Institutes, over 20 Committees, Governing Councils, Task Forces, Commissions, etc. Regrettably this huge organization is supported by a National Secretariat with a high level of capacity and skills deficit.
The roles and responsibilities of the NBA have increased over the years. Also Nigeria is a developing country with many public interest challenges. To successfully manage the huge NBA structure, regulate and represent the ever increasing number of lawyers, and tackle all the public interest issues, there is need to have a much professionalized National Secretariat of the NBA. The capacity and skills gap in the National Secretariat is huge. The time has come to bridge the gap.
To fulfil its set objectives, the NBA needs an effective, efficient, and professionalized National Secretariat that can respond to the needs of our members and the public. That is why Professionalization of NBA National Secretariat is one of the cardinal agenda of this administration. This programme is borne out of my desire to enhance the institutional and operational capacities of the National Secretariat. To achieve this institutional development, this administration proposes to conduct a needs assessment after which the National Secretariat shall be totally restructured and strengthened with the appropriate human capital and internal governance structure.
Apart from benchmarking the NBA National Secretariat against other Bars and Law Societies like the IBA, ABA and Law Society of England, and Law Society of South Africa, we propose to entrench international best practice in the governance of the National Secretariat.
I am happy to announce that I have already strengthened and restructured the Office of the President of the NBA to function optimally. While the Office of the President shall have the responsibility for policy formulation, programme development, and strategic direction, the National Secretariat shall be responsible for implementation.
The responsibilities and functions of the NBA President have increased at the same rate as the growth of NBA. There are always voluminous reports, memos, policy documents, proposals, concept papers, briefing notes, speeches, and many more public interest and national issues that require urgent presidential consideration and approval. Hence the urgent need for restructuring and proper documentation. Part of my agenda in this regard is to build an internal structure that will ensure smooth hand over and transition from one administration to another. An NBA President should be able to hit the ground running immediately after inauguration instead of groping in the dark for information and direction in the National Secretariat.
It has become urgent and important to upgrade the internal governance and institutions of the NBA. The answer is to professionalize all our institutions of governance. There is no other way out. It is either we professionalize or we continue to previcate in the sea of doubts . I therefore call on our members to eschew politics and embrace professionalism.
We shall keep NEC updated as to future developments in respect of the professionalization process especially as regards the names and functions of the Directorates we propose to create.
A strategic plan determines the direction an organization is going over a specified period of time, how it is going to get there and how it will know if it has arrived there or not. It is important to note that strategic planning is important to an organization. Strategic planning allows an organization to identify goals and objectives. It aims to achieve over a period of time, thus facilitating it to focus its time, attention and resources on specific priorities.
Bar Associations have found that a strategic plan can assist in articulating a realistic vision and provide a framework from which operational plans can be derived. Further, it provides a framework to position an organisation to address its aims and objectives and serves to chart a clear direction for an organisation.
Strategic planning further encourages financial planning as organisations must consider how funds will be raised and allocated for planned activities.
A strategic plan is essential to achieving a more focused, efficiently run and accountable organization. This is particularly important in the case of Bars because their objectives often include serving their members and the public The process can allow greater accountability to members, the public and other stakeholders, and ensure the Bar is focussed on specific goals and objectives, and knows exactly how, as well as timeframe within which, it is to achieve these. A strategic plan ensures continuity of policies and programmes.
To this end the NBA under my leadership proposes to develop a strategic plan for the NBA. It is expected that a draft strategic plan shall be presented to the next NEC meeting for consideration and approval.
Distinguished NEC members, apart from the regulatory and representative roles of the NBA, the Bar also acts in the public interest. Our people look up to us for leadership. The spirit and letters of the NBA Constitution require us not only to speak to issues of public interest, but also to work for the welfare of lawyers. Our reputation demands that we must be seen to stand up against growing trend or culture of impunity in Nigeria. This NBA under my watch will not only protect the interest of our members, but also promote the Rule of Law. There is a lot of work to be done. I invite all of you to join this administration so that together we can get the job done. No one has a monopoly of knowledge and exclusive answers to the challenges we face. I wish you fruitful deliberations.
Thank you for your attention.
Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, OON,SAN
President, Nigerian Bar Association
24th November, 2016